Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Road to El Dorado Review

(MINOR SPOILERS)

Does anyone remember the DreamWorks 2-Ds and hand-drawns?  Anyone?  You may remember Prince of Egypt, but for the most part, people seem to only remember the CG movies, such as Shrek, Antz, and Madagascar.  However, I think my favorite DreamWorks film is probably the one that I just saw for my first time a few days ago: The Road to El Dorado.  I remembered seeing little bits and pieces as a kid, but I never actually watched it all the way through.  Honestly though, I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much in my youth as I do now.

From a writing perspective, it is clearly a carefully built and structured film, that perfectly exemplifies the “correct” way to write a Hollywood narrative movie.  This is exactly what I would expect from the people behind the screenwriting website Wordplayer.com, which I highly recommend to everyone who has an interest in film.  The characters in the movie are strong, and the story is one that frequently connects to itself, if that makes sense.  (I mean to say that elements that appear early in the film connect to events later in the film, and every scene is there for a purpose.)  One of the writers did acknowledge that the middle of the film suffers from a bad studio decision to keep the protagonists “laying low” for a while, or in other words, actively doing absolutely nothing while waiting for their boat to be built.  Still, the situation is handled in a way that makes it bearable.  The screenplay seems to get a bit to edgy or dark for young children at times, so I do not recommend that the li’l ones are shown this film, but for an adult, it surprisingly adds to the fun.

That being said, even if the writing had been terrible, the music and animation are so wonderful that the film would arguably be good anyway.  Once the protagonists enter the mysterious city of El Dorado, you can expect every scene to look gorgeous from that point on.  The music is by Elton John and Tim Rice, so I don’t need to say anything else about that.  While I personally did not relate with the characters very much (which is a pretty typical problem for me when I watch movies) I can still say that this is a very enjoyable film that made me gape with wonder multiple times, and it is sure to be a joy for anyone who loves a good animated flick.

40 The Road to El Dorado

Silver Linings Playbook Review

(MAJOR SPOILERS)

 

How does this film get away with so many problems?  The main character makes stupid decisions and obsesses over a game in which I have no interest.  One of the main turning points is meant to be a surprise, even though it is rather predictable.  The movie suddenly shifts point of view in the third act, making the ending confusing.  While on the subject of the ending, it’s very cliché, with the male lead running down the streets to make up for the sadness he brought her, and then read her a letter confessing his love for her.  Oh, and writers are advised not to overuse profanity as it is generally used for shock value to cover up a lack of genuinely interesting content.  So why do I adore this movie?

It all boils down to a great high concept that was executed with strong characters and very effective storytelling.

The “high concept,” also known as the strange attractor, is the basic concept of the film summed up in a sentence or two, which has a unique, compelling intrigue.  This film had me with the description on Netflix, which does not always do a good job when it comes to describing the film, since it rarely gives viewers the high concept or log line as it probably should.  However, read this one: “After a stint in a mental hospital, Pat moves in with his parents and tries to win back his wife, until he meets a woman who’s as unstable as he is.”  So, so, so compelling and intriguing.

However, it only works if the characters are interesting, and I think I was interested in the main character, Pat, right away.  I understand exactly what it’s like to obsess over people and things that I should just forget about, and I was totally with him when he woke up his parents to rant about the book he just read.  (For me, it’s a bad film, or a mostly great film with a bad ending, that makes me just about scream and punch the wall sometimes.)  Somewhere in the middle of the movie, I get kind of tired of him making stupid decisions like going to the Eagles game, and I start to get annoyed with the character from whose perspective I am supposed to be seeing the story, which is a big problem.  But, by that point, Tiffany is a big presence in the film, and between the writing and the performance, I found her to be the more interesting character anyway.  At the end of the day, she is the character with whom I empathize, and she is the one I want to see happy more than anyone else.  This, I think, is why I did not mind it too much when the movie shifted to her perspective – I was more interested in her perspective before the shift occurred.

Now that we are on the subject of story structure, I think that the story is well-built.  There were a couple of times when I actually had a hard time figuring out how to interpret what I was seeing or hearing, but I figured it out eventually.  Really, it just required thinking a little bit, but I imagine I would not have had this problem had I not watched it in pieces over many nights.  One could question whether or not the love story really works well since we do not necessarily see the development of the relationship of the two leads to quite the degree one would expect if we are to believe that they gradually fall in love throughout the movie.  Also, if by the end of the film we see everything from Tiffany’s perspective, then I think the dance competition should be of more value to her than it is to Pat’s family, but with the way the story is written, that is not the case.  Instead, we know that Tiffany has had an interested in the dance competition, but we do not know just how much it means to her, making the ending of the film a victory for the side characters rather than the girl who has suddenly become the lead.  (This would not be an issue had the point of view not changed, which would not have been necessary if the protagonist had been more likable, so I still claim that Pat’s lack of likability mid-way through is the movie’s greatest fault, and even then, it is not a huge one.)

Overall, the story is decent, and the characters are impressive, but what could give the film a special edge?  A great soundtrack.  The soundtrack to this movie is just awesome.  It features some of the most emotional songs ever recorded.  The use of “Maria” from West Side Story is oddly perfect, and while they did not go with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s jazz recording of the song, which is my favorite version, I love the fact that they used Dave Brubeck’s cover.  I love Dave Brubeck, and his music appears multiple times in the film.  Additionally, “Misty” by Johnny Mathis is so gorgeous, and it was also used in the film at just the perfect time.  Now let’s talk about the song that the movie features the most, “My Cherie Amour.”  This is one of the greatest songs ever recorded, and it has the magical ability to grab listeners and suck them into its sweet sadness, and then drown them in the intense emotion.  Such an amazing song, and once again, the movie used it to the perfect effect.  Well done, movie.

I must confess that, like the professor who never gives anyone an A, I almost never give movies more than four and a half stars, even if I really like them a lot.  This is because I have reserved five stars for my favorite movie of all time, and four and a half for movies that come close.  While this movie has some serious flaws, it has the miraculous ability to make me love it anyway.  This movie created incredibly close aesthetic distance by the end in a way that reminds me of Play It Again Sam.  It moved me emotionally to the point that I was on the edge of my seat at the very end of the film, hoping and praying that everything would work out between the leads, with the horrible fear that the movie made take a turn for the artistic and end on a downer.  Then, when they kissed, I finally sat back and let out a sigh of relief.  I was so impacted, that I had to go for a walk to ponder it (around midnight) so I had a chance of getting to sleep.

So, while I may really, really regret this, movie, I think I’ll be nice and give you the bonus half a star.  Well done.

39 Silver Linings Playbook

Into the Woods Review

What do you call a movie that feels much longer than it really is, and yet stays very interesting throughout?  You call it Disney’s Into the Woods.  (About two thirds of the way through the film, my friend joked that they must still be making it and sending footage to the theater as they go along, creating a literally never-ending story.)

You should see this movie.

Let’s talk flaws first.  Between the lighting, set designs, and color grading, the woods look like a slightly fantasized version of… well, the woods.  Like the woods by the park where you used to play, or at least the way they might have seemed to a reasonably imaginative child.  That’s nice and all, but this was a missed opportunity to create unique woods in a unique fantasy world, like they did in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth.  And, while on the subject of visuals, the way the film opens is essentially a modified jump scare, which I found incredibly annoying.

Because of the nature of the stage musical upon which this film is based, the story structure is a bit odd.  Without giving too much away, the film gives few warnings that its structure is going to throw off some viewers.  I… don’t know how I feel about this.  It is certainly one of the many thing about this film that had me saying, “Woah, are we really doing this, movie?  Are we really doing what it looks like we’re doing?  Wow.  Okay then.”  Honestly, that reaction wasn’t really a bad one – it meant I was intrigued and surprised, mostly in a positive way.

Now that we are talking about things I liked, I think the casting was pretty good, and the film featured one of my very favorite Johnny Depp performances.  I also really liked the way that Little Red Riding Hood was written and performed; her voice is the one that was stuck in my head afterwards because it stands out in much the same way that her bright red hood does.  Which, again, is mostly a plus.  Since the story and music are, for the most part, right out of an impressive Sondheim musical, it’s pretty much a given that they are impressive in the film.  Even the look of the film, in spite of my rant above, has a lot to offer (and you can click here for Exhibit A).

The story, characters, music, theme, and other elements are strong in this film.  This is amazingly dark, with moments that are hard to believe Disney would keep in, and I think that makes it all the more memorable.  It has a couple of little problems, but it sticks with you.

38 Into the Woods

Alice Review

I meant to review this shortly after I watched it, which was over a week ago.  Whoops.

Anyway, it’s a nice film.  It has one of the best endings out of all of the Woody Allen movies I’ve watched so far.  It is arguably his take on Alice in Wonderland, and while there are some similarities, this is definitely its own separate story.  It starts off seeming like a story that takes place in the normal, real world – then Woody decides that Chines herbs can make you (and your clothes) invisible.  Just go with it.

That is actually my best advice for watching this film – just got with it.  If you go in with the mindset that whatever fantasy elements are thrown at you are fair game, you’ll have a good time.  The story is good and strong, it makes a great point, and the ending seemed inevitable in the best way.  It actually takes a lot for a film to make me okay with an ending in which (spoiler alert) the main characters don’t fall in love, but this film made it work.

37 Alice

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex Review

(NOTE: First of all, I’m sorry for all the reviews of Woody Allen movies in a row, but when I found out they’d be booted off of Netflix on January 1st, I decided to watch a few while I still had the time.  Secondly, since my review of The Graduate, you may have noticed that the rating of the film (the number of stars) has been in a picture of a character or two from that film looking at the rating I gave it.  I wanted to keep this going since I really like the joke, but I’m going to have to stop that now for the sake of time and convenience for me, and I think that it may be confusing since I end up picking random pictures that are often blurry and rotated.  ‘Nuff said.)

It’s an odd idea to take a book that does not seem like it would translate to film easily, and make it into seven different vignettes.  It’s nice seeing a film that’s done differently, and the vignette route is one that is not often taken, even though, in this case, it was the best way to do the film.  The issue with this, of course, is that there are no main characters that appear throughout, and there is no overarching story, so one only gets to know the characters for a short time before their vignette is over, and everything changes gears.  Still, it seems worth it since each of the little stories is funny, particularly the second and the last three.

The second story, What Is Sodomy?, stars Gene Wilder, who brilliantly plays a doctor that falls in love with a sheep.  His comedy is superb.  The fifth vignette, while not really a story, is fun because it parodies old game shows, specifically What’s My Line, in a way that is absolutely delightful for those who are familiar with that show.  Similarly, the sixth section of the film is most fun if one is familiar with old horror movies.  The film’s final chapter is probably the one that I was most looking forward to because it shows the way the different parts of the brain and the body interplay to make a man function.  This film may not be the best sex ed. that one can receive, and the questions it explores are not really answered well, but this movie has the ability to make the audience not care about that.

36 Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex